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University Statement Regarding Flags on Campus

December 10, 2015

A message to the GW community from George Washington University President Steven Knapp:

I am writing to address valid concerns about the university’s response to a flag that was seen hanging outside a student’s window at Shenkman Hall on October 26.

Let me begin by assuring you that I am committed to our doing everything we can to ensure that students of all backgrounds, nationalities, and beliefs feel welcome at this university and enjoy the fullest respect and support as they pursue the aspirations that brought them to George Washington in the first place.

Here is what occurred and what we are doing to make sure that a similar event does not occur in the future.  When the flag was reported by a passerby to the GW Police Department, a police officer went to the student’s room and explained that hanging any object outside a window was prohibited.  This policy was adopted some years ago for safety reasons.  The officer had no idea what kind of flag this was.  The student immediately moved the flag, and the officer filed a routine report.

That should have been the end of the matter.  Instead, the officer’s report of the incident triggered the sending of a warning letter to the student.  This was the result of what we now know was a flawed process that resulted in the student’s receiving a standard warning letter even though he had immediately complied with the officer’s request.  The student was understandably alarmed and believed that the warning was based on the fact that the object he had hung from his window was a Palestinian flag.  That was not the case, but, again, it was perfectly understandable that the student would interpret the letter in the way he did.

I have instructed the relevant offices to end the practice of sending warning letters to students solely because of a reported violation of a university policy.  I have also instructed them to ensure consistent enforcement of all university policies.

At the same time, I have personally apologized to the student for this unfortunate incident and assured him that the university’s actions were in no way a response to his expression of his beliefs or opinions.